Last week’s verdict by the National Judicial Council recommending the compulsory retirement of Justice Olamide Oloyede of the Osun State High Court, is largely seen as a subliminal message to anyone who speaks against the ills of the society, writes Davidson Iriekpen
The National Judicial Council (NJC) shocked many Nigerians last week when it recommended the compulsory retirement of Justice Olamide Folahanmi Oloyede of the Osun State High Court for daring to write a petition against the state governor, Rauf Aregbesola.
Acting on the allegations levelled against the judge by a group, Osun Civil Societies Coalition, the council said she failed to conduct herself in such a manner as to preserve the dignity of her office and the impartiality and independence of the judiciary by writing a petition against the governor and his deputy to the House of Assembly and circulated same to 36 persons and organisations.
The NJC said the judge, by her petition, crossed the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and created a negative perception of the Nigerian judiciary to the public. It also described her actions as constituting misconduct contrary to Section 292(1) (b) of the 1999 Constitution and Rules 1(1) and 5 of the 2016 Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers. The council proceeded to suspending the judge pending the time Aregbesola confirms her compulsory retirement.
“The petition written by the judge was said to contain political statements, unsubstantiated allegations and accusations aimed at deriding, demeaning and undermining the government of Osun State; the person and character of the governor (as one who is cruel, a liar and a traitor), his deputy and aides. The council also found that the petition contained statements calculated to incite the residents of Osun State against the state government and its elected officers.”
First off, Oloyede was owed salaries for an upward of seven months by the state government. The hardship and suffering this had caused her, her family and other workers as well as their dependants was unimaginable. As a judge, she did not want to be tempted to be demanding for bribes from litigants and lawyers. She could also not understand why in a democracy, a governor, who begged for votes during electioneering could owe workers for seven months and be comfortable in office without resigning or sacked through impeachment.
Following the conspiracy of silence, with courage, in July 2015, she took up the gauntlet and wrote a 39-page petition to the state House of Assembly, calling for the impeachment of Aregbesola and his deputy. In the innocuous petition, the judge alleged that Aregbesola’s “act of literally ruling the state from Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Lagos is disloyal, neglectful and un-patriotic and is the direct cause of most of Osun’s problems.”
To her, “all these acts of recklessness amount to the greatest betrayal and treachery of the ideals of democracy and consequently of the rule of law of which he (Aregbesola) is one of the greatest beneficiaries.”
Before people began to make different imputations to the petition, the judge made it clear that she was not motivated by politics, malice, spite, pecuniary interest or promise but personal conviction for governance. She claimed to have made the allegations with a deep sense of responsibility and sincerity of purpose.
She said it was “due to my conviction in the sanctity of truth and in the rule of law as the bases for promoting the ideals and the attainment of good governance and the welfare of all persons in our country, on the principles of freedom, equality and justice as enunciated at the Stockholm Conference (1942), a principle which finds expression in the preamble to our constitution, and which I believe is a fundamental pre-condition to the establishment and sustenance of our collective dream of an ‘egalitarian society’ as promised by Osun State’s anthem, as well as the basis for harmony, universal brotherhood and world peace.”
She equally added that her motive for the petition was driven by the need to sanitise the society. “My objective is to ensure that human beings are treated justly, and thus ensure the reign of peace, since peace and justice can never be separated – they are two sides of the same coin. If the world is ever to experience peace, therefore, all hands must be on deck to ensure that no one is treated unjustly, and that the propensity of certain persons to mistreat and maltreat others are, at least, put in check, for as long as it is not quite possible to wipe out injustice completely.
“I declare that in presenting this petition, I’m not in any way motivated by malice, spite, pecuniary interest or promise thereof, nor am I propelled by a desire for higher office, since it has always been my conviction that all good things come from above, only from above. I am also not unmindful of the need to respect the dignity of fellow citizens and to respect constituted authority (including Mr. Governor), it is however trite that: respect begets respect, and that dignity is as dignity does.
“I verily believe that the desired power, prestige and good image for our country that the majority yearns for can only be achieved when we all cooperate to fight ineptitude, corruption, greed and abuse of entrusted power in governance.”
She said she was unmindful that she was seeking the removal of a governor, who is a brother and a fellow Ijesaman. “I am also convinced of the fact that loving one’s brethren means doing that which will benefit them, which includes having them corrected and or punished if they refuse to understand and persist in acts, which are damaging to others beside themselves.
“Even Mr. Governor has admitted publicly, the fact that Osun is in financial quagmire and that he is clueless on how to pull her out of the doldrums into which she has been pushed. Nor is it in dispute that the state has been unable to discharge its financial obligations to its pensioners, civil service, the judicial arm and contractors alike.”
As expected, on August 5, 2015, not only was the petition against the governor dismissed by the assembly, the lawmakers described it as lacking in merit, fictitious, frivolous and baseless.
Rather than applaud the judge for the courage she exhibited when others, were pained by the situation in the state and afraid to speak, a few Nigerians in the camp of the Aregbesola descended on her, called her names and demanded she be sacked from the bench. Ironically, these Aregbesola’s supporters do not see anything wrong with his non-payment of salary for seven months neither did they care about the plight of civil servants and their dependants.
Their contention was that the judge breached the oath for judicial officers not to publicly engage in a bitter public confrontation with any other arm of government. A petition was subsequently sent to the NJC, alleging sundry offences against her. And since the NJC took the decision, many analysts and groups have expressed their reservations, condemning it. They also described the verdict as “completely insensitive and draconic.”
For instance, a human lawyer, who did not want her name in print for fear of being victimised by the same NJC said: “This for a very long time will remain one the worse decisions ever taken by the NJC. Their verdict is not only draconic, but undemocratic. I am surprised that under a democratic regime, the NJC could come up with such a decision.
“If it were in other climes, Justice Oloyede would have been celebrated, held in the highest esteem and commended for her courage and daring to speak out against injustice, where others chose to keep silent. Where is the famous word Frantz Fanon, who posited that evil thrive in the society because good people keep silent and refuse to speak. This is a shame to the NJC.”
Another lawyer, who spoke on similar grounds, pointed: “What was the NJC expecting – for her to be collecting bribes from lawyers and litigants? In an era when judges who are even paid at the federal level are busy collecting bribes for judgments and orders, Oloyede who was not paid for seven months is being punished for agitating for her salary.
“This is shameful. If not because the state House of Assembly is in the governor’s pocket, is anybody supposed to remind them that the best thing to do is to sack Aregbesola from office even after he admitted that he did not have solution to the financial quagmire in the state? He even refused to step down for a more competent person to come and govern the state.”
On its part, the Civil Society Coalition for the Emancipation of Osun State (CSCEOS) faulted the NJC for its decision. It called on President Muhammadu Buhari to wade into the matter by constituting an ‘independent and unbiased’ panel of enquiry, saying failure to aptly do that might rubbish his anti-corruption crusade.
The Chairman of the coalition, Comrade Adeniyi Alimi-Sulaiman, while addressing journalists in Osogbo expressed displeasure over the verdict handed down by the council and said it had political undertone. He said the council demonstrated clearly the highest level of corruption and moral bankruptcy in its verdict.
Sulaiman further explained that the verdict was aimed at discouraging, albeit and silencing any persons, who might want to speak out against the multitude of evil being perpetrated by some elected leaders in the country. He noted that some of the signatories to the petition, which led to the compulsory retirement of the judge had one cases or the other which according to him was contrary to the August, 2015, NJC published 2014 Judicial Discipline Regulations, which stated that no petition will be treated without investigating the integrity of the petitioners.
“We put it to the leadership of the NJC that the so-called 2016 Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was masterminded by a cabal in the judicial and the executive arm of government determined to ensure Oloyede’s exit from the bench of Osun State.”